THE author whose impassioned plea to save libraries sparked the public outcry in Oxfordshire has warned that volunteers cannot replace professionals.

Philip Pullman spoke out as the window for comments on the service’s proposed shake-up closes at midnight tomorrow.

Library users have one more day to have their say on restructuring the service before Oxfordshire County Council decides whether to press ahead with plans to ask volunteers to provide two-thirds of staffing at 16 rural branches.

Mr Pullman, whose attack on council plans to stop funding 20 of 43 libraries last year launched a mass campaign, admitted County Hall’s new proposals were an improvement.

“I am not convinced it is the only solution, but it is a sort of solution,” he said.

But the award-winning writer said: “The trouble is, people the council are relying on to jump in and volunteer are already doing dozens of other things, volunteering at hospital friends groups or training primary school football teams.

“You cannot go on relying on volunteers to do professional work. There seems to be a rather disparaging view of librarians that all they do is tidy the shelves and stamp the books. It is far more than that, it requires pretty stringent professional training.

“It is not something you can just pick up after an hour or two.”

The council was forced into a U-turn in May, after thousands of people opposed plans that would have caused many branches to close.

County Hall now proposes to keep all 43 libraries open but ask volunteers to make up a third of staff at five branches and two-thirds at 16 others. The deadline for comments on the plan is midnight tomorrow.

Save Oxfordshire Libraries called the plan “unworkable”.

Chairman Judith Wardle said: “Several library groups that have done local surveys have proof that it can’t be done where they live.

“This is not people being selfish, just realistic.”

Renee Grassby, of Friends of Watlington Library, said the council’s plans were biased against rural communities, where fewer people lived within walking distance of their local library.

She estimated the branch would need 70 volunteers to stay open.

“I do not really think it is feasible, and it is certainly not a good idea,” she said.

Friends of Kennington Library said rural branches served half of the Oxfordshire public but were taking 100 per cent of the front-line cuts while receiving just 9.2 per cent of front-line funding.

Oxford West and Abingdon MP Nicola Blackwood has backed Kennington’s calls to rely only on volunteers for a third instead of two-thirds of labour.

County council spokesman Marcus Mabberley said: “The council has received around 3,500 responses so far and we would like to give our thanks to all of those who have taken time to present their ideas.”

He said an independent organisation will evaluate the feedback and report back to the council, and a final decision will be taken by the cabinet in December.

People can have their say at, emailing, calling 01865 323742 or writing to Library Service Consultation, Freepost, Oxfordshire County Council.